The Eristae royal kitchens were a sight to behold and Lena occasionally, despite calling them home for over a month now, took a moment to admire their prodigious operation. Panting servers ducked around red-faced cooks attending to flame and steam. Today though, Lena didn’t have time for awe, or really anything. The visiting Cetzan priests were finishing off a toporifically massive midday meal and would be retiring to their rooms for an afternoon nap. This would give the Eristaen king, Aron, a chance to prepare for the nights festivities and Lena’s staff to do the same.
Lena came in from the servant’s yards, her skirts tied up around her knees like any common kitchen girl with a small bundle of letters in her arms. She’d run through them with Aron later and was looking forward to dishing out the more malign messages and missives like the latest gossip. For now, she pocketed the mail and rolled up her sleeves.
The door was guarded by a boy flipping a card between his fingers, trying to get it to disappear. Lena bustled past and he didn’t even look up. She stopped and plucked the card away from him. “Tomas, scrimshanking?”
“Scrim what?” Tomas looked up with an annoyed frown. When he recognized her round face and smooth black hair, he crunched up his neck like a turtle. “Lady Zinn, wasn’t scrim anything, swear it on the crown,” he said as he scrambled to his feet.
“Tomas, we have a two dozen Cetzans to feed, do you know what Cetzan priests do with children who misbehave?” Lena crossed her arms. Around them people put their noses to their tasks, no one daring martyrdom for the lazy boy’s sake. Lena, despite her bright and bouncy disposition, could give tongue lashing to make any school marm proud. Tomas shook his head and Lena answered, “they rip out their hearts.”
“And eat them?” Tomas eyes widened to nearly perfect circles.
“Maybe, especially if those potatoes aren’t ready by first plating.” She snapped her fingers and he scurried by her tied skirts, disappearing past the counters and bustle of the cooks and kitchen servants. Lena shook her head but did not dwell.
Like a warlord amidst generals, Lena reviewed her plan for supper, dinner, dessert, and after-party with her staff. She dug her hands in dough, instructing a timid kitchen maid as she folded the sticky mass. When an unfortunate cook reeled back from a blossom of flame, Lena took the pan over, massaging the heat down. Not a plate emerged from the kitchen without her touch.
Lena looked up after the soup went out, expecting to see the beginnings of thinly cut, creamy potatoes. The counter was empty. “Where are my potatoes?” She asked and people floundered, each looking to those beside them to find blame. Lena jerked her apron off and stalked towards the larder.
The deep, earthy room was dim and cool. Full bushels of spices hung from the rafters, dusty rows of pickled and canned goods stocked the floor to ceiling shelves. Lena swayed around barrels of apples, pomegranates, and yams, following a curious trail of fallen potatoes to the back of the larder. She expected to find Tomas lazing about, playing a game, perhaps napping. Instead she found a single playing card at the base of a shelf.
She picked the creased card up, pausing while bent at the waist. Beneath the shelf, now visible in her bow, was a stripe of empty black. A open space behind the sturdy wood. Lena frowned. The shelf itself was cocked, leaning forward ever so slightly on the right.
Lena straightened and with a tentative touch, tugged the shelf towards her. The secret door swung at its hinges and Lena faced a clean smelling passage of smooth stone. It ascended upwards slightly and quickly into utter dark. Lena sucked in a breath and almost stepped away, until she noted the small pale square of an old playing card lying just inside the black interior.
Her fingers curled around her skirts. Memories of her own brother’s ill-fated adventures and decisions coiled in the back of her mind. Lena huffed a breath and stepped forward, stalking into the passage to find her kitchen boy.
Its been a while since I’ve done one of Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie‘s Wordle challenges, but I’m happy to be back.